Disclaimer: Voltron belongs to WEP, the lyrics to the song Save Yourself belong to Stabbing Westward.
Zarcon watched the fleet preparations from the privacy of his throne room. In anticipation of this morning's battle, Castle Doom had been stripped of nearly every able-bodied soldier, leaving only a skeleton crew to act as the king's personal honor guard. The success of this battle would not be left to chance, as was the case so many times in years past. Success was so imminent that Zarcon could nearly caress it with his fingertips.
He gave in and smirked as the wall-length monitor magnified his son's angry glare. The boy was learning. The anger boiling under his arrogant exterior would maximize his ruthlessness, making him especially deadly in a close fight. Careful observation by the agents placed in various ships in the fleet would warn Zarcon long before any reckless action endangered the mission.
As the lights of the last of the departing fleet flashed crimson across the polished stone floor, Zarcon wiped the smirk off his face with an effort and turned to the honor guard at the base of his throne. The guard stood motionless, only the flicker of white at his eyes betraying his ceaseless surveillance for any threat to the monarch's safety. Zarcon nodded in satisfaction and took a deep breath.
"Have my battleship prepared at once."
The guard barely reacted as the royal command echoed from the thick stone walls. He turned to the throne and bowed deeply, quickly hiding the surprise filtering through the edges of his impassive mask. "Sire?"
"My ship," Zarcon repeatedly slowly, scowling with annoyance. "Prepare my ship for departure. Now!"
"Yes, sire." The guard's voice emerged as a squeak. Mortified, the guard turned and ran towards the huge steel doors. Zarcon allowed himself a grin as the doors slammed shut.
"Is that wise, sire?"
Zarcon turned towards the heavily cloaked figure hunched on the edge of the dais. Hagar had been very quiet this morning. Ignoring the tickle of worry along his nerves, Zarcon glared at the bundle of blue fur purring contentedly in her arms. The cat glared back, eyes flashing. "Today will end in a victory celebration or an execution." He leaned back into the massive stone throne and shrugged with casual indifference. "Either one should be fairly entertaining."
His eyes flickered momentarily to the new preparations being hurriedly carried out in the space port, missing the flash of rage across the witch's face as she stared at the portrait of Meiden gracing the throne room wall.
Lotor stood at the helm of his command ship and watched the pinpoints of starlight intensify as the fleet reemerged from vector jump. A glowing ball of emerald and sapphire against the glittering diamond backdrop of the Cerulean quadrant slowly filled the viewscreens surrounding the bridge. Arus was dazzling from space, untouched by the smog and pollution of more industrialized worlds.
His hands, clasped tightly behind his back, were the only outward sign of his anxiety. The rest of his tormented emotions had been forcefully hidden under a mask of feigned indifference. His eyes remained locked on the unsuspecting world in the viewscreen. He was entirely oblivious to the drones scurrying about him, preparing the advance squadrons for the initial wave of attack.
Lotor's eyes twitched to Cossack, a snarl slightly marring his exotically beautiful features. "What do you want?"
Cossack pulled himself up to his full height, crossing his arms defensively. "I'm sorry to disturb your…meditations, but we are approaching Arus."
Lotor cocked an eyebrow, his mouth tightening into a thin line. "I can see that."
"Yes, sire," Cossack continued hurriedly, dropping his attempted show of arrogance in favor of the more reliable method of groveling, "I'm sure you can. There's no indication that they've detected our presence. The fleet is ready to attack on your command."
"It's about time," Lotor snapped, stepping forward to the command console. A drone hurried forward to queue the com link. Lotor grasped the microphone tightly, his fingers closing spasmodically over the cold metal. He nodded to the drone and turned to the console with a scowl. "Let the attack commence!"
Cossack turned to leave, shooting a nasty glare at Lotor's back. "It's about time, Cossack. What do you want, Cossack? On your knees, Cossack. One of these days…" The door slammed shut behind him, cutting off his angry complaints.
The advance ships of the Doom fleet swooped out of the clear noon sky, raining fiery destruction on the unsuspecting populace. The citizens of Arus ran for the abandoned caves, the screams of the wounded mixing with the cries of people searching desperately for missing family and friends. As the survivors straggled once more to their network of hiding places, their eyes drifted fearfully to the distant spires of the Castle of Lions, their only hope of salvation.
Lotor watched the blossoming destruction from the safety of his command ship, smiling with almost unbearable anticipation. The destruction of the defenseless villages was little more than a prelude to the great opera that would unfold with the inevitable appearance of the five lions of Voltron. His beloved would fight him this one last time, and then they would be together always. He would grant her freedom and the lives of at least some of her people in return for her love. How could she possibly deny him the key to his salvation in the face of unbeatable odds? His smile faded as a fireball engulfed an entire village, leaving a smoking crater in its wake. It was too bad the world itself couldn't be saved, but Lotor intended to do away with all possible symbols of rebellion before he seized control of his father's empire. With Allura at his side, they could find a new world, one just as beautiful…
He was torn from his musings by the reverberation of warning claxons, calling the second wave of attack ships into the fray. Lotor turned to the drone on the communications board.
The drone visibly shrank back into his station under the weight of his temperamental ruler's stare. "It's the lion ships, sire. Should we proceed as planned?"
"Order the fleet to divide their attentions between the lions and the castle. Take out all their weapons." Lotor paused, turning his golden eyes back to an intense study of the battle below, his face twisted into a menacing snarl. "No one is to injure the princess. Is that understood?"
"But sire-" The drone gulped as the point of Lotor's sword grazed his throat, a thin trickle of blood traveling down to stain the collar of his uniform.
"Leave her to me. I will take any attack upon Allura as a personal insult. Am I understood?"
The drone nodded vehemently, backing away from the feral gleam in the prince's eyes. He hit the command console with his back and jumped around quickly, striking at the radio in his haste to relay the order.
Lotor nodded in satisfaction and turned back to the viewscreens, waiting intently for the perfect moment to put his own plans into play.
The battle raged on in the upper atmosphere, a deadly dance amid the laser fire and smoke of crashed ships. Once the lions combined into Voltron, only to separate again almost immediately. Years spent perfecting strategy for fighting Hagar's monstrous robeasts was proving to be fatally flawed under the deluge of the awesome numbers of the fleet of Doom. Most of the castle defenses had been shut down, leaving the outcome of the battle entirely upon the lions. The battle became more desperate as four of the lions sought to protect the fifth at all costs.
Finally, the moment Lotor had been waiting for arrived. An entire squadron of fighters surrounded the blue and red lions. As the order came through to focus fire only on the red lion, the black lion threw itself into the fray. A thunderous explosion rocked through the skies as a round of fire broke through the captain's shields. Black Lion tumbled from the sky, down a rocky hillside, and finally came to rest in a valley in a great cloud of dust and fire.
The remaining four lions threw themselves into the battle with renewed fury, quickly wiping out the remainder of the squadron, but the damage had already been done. Electrical explosions surrounded the downed lion like an aura. There would be no Voltron to save the day.
Lotor allowed himself a small surge of triumph, however premature, as Keith's lion fell from the sky. One of his most hated enemies was vanquished. The victory was his as surely as if he had felled Keith with his own hands. He turned to the communications drone with an arrogant sneer. "Order a temporary cease-fire and raise communications with the blue lion."
The drone, not daring to question the prince's judgement twice in one day, quickly obeyed. Lotor turned to the console with confidence.
"What do you want, Lotor?" Allura's voice was hoarse with strain, her face pale in the dim lights of the lion's cockpit.
"Now, Allura, is that any way to address your future husband, one who worships the very ground you walk on?"
Allura sighed, her eyes darting to the external monitor in the lion. "How many times are we going to have this conversation?"
"This shall be the last time, my sweet. I ordered my ships to cease fire temporarily. Would you care to meet me alone to negotiate? Your situation is rather hopeless, you must admit."
"Don't do it, Allura. You can't trust him."
Lotor's smile faded into a snarl of hatred as Lance's voice cut through the communication. "This is between Allura and myself."
Allura glared at him before turning to the internal monitor. "It's all right, Lance. Let me deal with this."
"Not now." She turned back to Lotor. "Give us a minute to discuss this."
Lotor nodded. "You have one minute, although I really don't see what you could possibly have to discuss." His last glimpse was of Allura's weary face before the communication shut off into blackness.
Allura braced herself for the inevitable onslaught as soon as the external link was closed. Lance didn't disappoint her.
"Are you crazy?" he exploded. "You can't trust him! Do you really expect him to hold to this cease-fire?"
"What choice do we have?" Pidge's soft query sliced through Lance's anger. The com link was silent for a moment as the four members of the Voltron force frantically searched for an out.
Allura finally sighed in defeat, wiping one hand over her eyes. "We don't have a choice. We have to play by his rules for now."
Hunk cleared his throat, afraid to voice the question on everyone's mind. "What about Keith?"
Allura closed her eyes and shook her head, ready for another outburst.
"Do you think you can distract Lotor long enough for me to get Keith out of that wreck?"
Allura sank back into her seat in surprise at Lance's soft question, feeling tears begin to sting her eyes. "All right, this is what we'll do." She paused to put her thoughts in order, calmed by the unaccustomed feeling of unquestioned authority. "I'll meet Lotor in the open." Her eyes searched the terrain below. "Right below us, on the edge of that valley. Pidge, Hunk? Will you both keep watch?" At their immediate affirmatives, she turned to Lance. "Get him out of there as quickly as you can."
Lance nodded, silent despite the rage and worry burning in his eyes.
Allura took a deep breath and reopened the external link to Lotor's flagship.
Lotor stopped his restless pacing and forced a bored expression across his face as the link was reopened. He strode back to the console, his posture a picture of bored arrogance. "Well?"
"All right, Lotor, I agree to meet with you for…negotiations." She stressed the last word slightly, anger rising through her tone of assumed meekness.
"Wonderful! I knew you'd see things my way. I'll open the docking bay immediately."
Lotor frowned. "This isn't open for discussion."
"I said no, Lotor. If you want to meet with me alone, it will be someplace neutral. Land your ship and meet me in the open. You will not be harmed as long as the cease-fire holds." She flashed a warning look at Lance through the internal monitor. "I give you my word."
Lotor nodded slowly, astonishment plain on his face. "All right, Allura. I'll land immediately. I trust my safety in your lovely hands."
The communication closed. Lotor stood at the console a moment longer, watching the lions divide. The green and yellow lions settled onto a ridge overlooking the appointed meeting place. Red lion descended towards one end of the valley, putting itself between Lotor's ship and the downed black lion, while blue lion landed underneath the protected ridge. Allura emerged to meet him, shielding her face with one arm from the dust raised by his flagship's descent.
Adjusting his battle helmet absently, Lotor turned to the drone at the weapon's board. "If anyone moves to harm me, annihilate him." He pointed to the figure moving rapidly down the valley towards the scorched wreckage of black lion. "But make very sure you don't break the peace fire without good reason."
The drone nodded emphatically and opened a communication channel with the fleet, then settled into an intense scrutiny of the proceedings. Lotor strode out of the throne room, one hand on his sword hilt.
A figure stepped out of the shadows of the control room and slipped unnoticed into the hall, anger and hatred twisting his features. That foolish imbecile of a prince was not going to ruin this victory. He, Cossack the Terrible, would not allow it. Chuckling to himself as visions of Lotor kneeling to him flashed through his mind, he opened a channel to Zarcon's personal battleship.
Zarcon regarded the dark figure on his battleship's view screen without a trace of surprise. "I take it my idiot son has decided to abandon my orders in favor of satisfying his hormones yet again? I should have had that boy neutered."
Cossack started slightly, a flash of light gleaming off the horns of his battle helmet. "You knew…?"
"Of course I did." Zarcon snorted in disgust, one hand unconsciously caressing the sword cradled in his lap. "It was only a question of when it was going to happen. You'll be well-rewarded for this, Cossack."
"Why, thank you, sire. I was only doing my sworn duty, me your loyal servant-"
Zarcon ended the communication abruptly, rolling his eyes as he keyed the command console. "Fire up the weapons system and begin our descent. The planet is to be taken at all costs." As the alarm claxons began to sound throughout the ship, Zarcon sank back into his throne, a wicked smile flitting momentarily over his face.
Hagar stood in the throne room's doorway with Koba cradled in her arms, staring speculatively at the blank screen. 'So, he wants to ruin Lotor's chance for happiness the way he ruined mine, does he? That could be dangerous. Lotor is so pliable when he's happy, so easy to control…'
An evil grin crossed her features as she turned to study Zarcon from the shadows. "I don't think I can let that happen, my pet. Oh, no, Zarcon. This game's not played out yet."
Shaking with silent laughter, she raised her free arm and vanished deep into the bowels of the ship.
I know that you've been damaged
Your soul has suffered such abuse
But I am not your savior
I am just as fucked as you
I cannot save you. I can't even save myself.
Lotor lowered the ramp and strode out into the hazy afternoon light almost before his flagship had finished settling into the dirt. His eyes scanned the valley, carefully noting the weapon's angles of the two lions looming over the cliff. Allura waited across the valley, halfway between their ships. He turned to her with raised brows. "You gave me your word that I would come to no harm."
Allura regarded him from a distance, her beautiful face carefully expressionless. "You will not be, so long as your ships hold their fire." She pointed to the flagship's external guns, trained on the barely visible form of red lion and the valley beyond.
Lotor nodded and strolled easily across the space, a confident smile touching his lips. "So, my love, are you ready to surrender?"
"You offered negotiations, not surrender, Lotor."
Lotor watched with fascination as she brushed straying wisps of honey-gold hair back into place, weariness failing to diminish her innate grace. "All right. If you insist on a technicality." He swept a graceful bow and allowed his gaze to travel slowly up to the perfection of her face. "Let the negotiations begin."
Allura watched him silently, her tension and the turn of her body towards the valley beyond his ship betraying her attempt at calm neutrality. Lotor straightened and fought down a surge of annoyance. He turned slowly and surveyed the valley, watching her face from the corner of his eyes. "You're worried about him, aren't you? I can see it in your eyes. I understand."
Allura drew herself up with a haughty expression. "Do you? How could a monster such as you possibly understand a pure concept like love?"
"I'm not a monster." He shook his head, his glowing eyes locked onto her face. He hesitated for a moment, afraid to give voice to his real concern. "Then you do love him?"
Allura shook her head, pity shining in her eyes. "Of course I do. I love all my people. I don't expect you to understand."
"I understand love, Allura. Do you really believe I'm such a monster? How can you look into my eyes and doubt the depth of my love for you?"
"I see obsession, not love. You don't understand." She bit her lip in agitation. "This isn't getting us anywhere. What do I have to do to make you stop these attacks on my planet?"
Allura stared at him incredulously. "And if I say yes, the attacks will stop? Your father has agreed to this?"
"I can make him see…"
"That's not good enough." Allura shook her head violently, glancing quickly up the cliff side at the lions. "I will not hand Arus over to your father. I won't allow my people to be enslaved or our heritage to be destroyed. Until you can guarantee their safety, there won't be any deals."
Lotor frowned with uneasy confusion. "I might be able to do that. My father is old. Castle Doom is empty of guards. Give me your word. Come back with me as my bride and the attacks will end. With you by my side, I can find the strength to defeat him."
Allura shook her head sadly. A surge of frustrated anger ran through Lotor, turning his eyes into burning yellow flames. "Don't you see? Am I so impossible to love? With one word from you, the violence will end. Whole galaxies can be saved the pain you've suffered. How can you think only of yourself?"
Allura sighed, weariness and resignation seeming to age her before his eyes. "That's the problem. More lives than mine weigh on my soul. I can't condemn them for you. I can't give you the strength to face your father. That has to come from within yourself." He shook his head in denial, reaching out to catch her arm with his hand in desperation. Her weariness seemed to deepen at his obvious incomprehension. "Do you have any more demands?"
Lotor could feel the smoothness of her skin burning into his soul through the thin covering of her flightsuit. He tried to focus. There was something else, something important. A slight sound drew his attention back to the cliff. He tightened his grip, once more surrounding himself with the cloak of arrogance. "The destruction of Voltron and the Castle of Lions."
He released her arm, watching with honest surprise as the blood drained from her face. "I can't allow the existence of those symbols of freedom if I'm to take over the Doom Empire."
He cut her off with an impatient gesture. "It's not such a difficult choice. Come with me and your people live, or stay here and die with them in a futile exercise of defiance. I love you, Allura. I'm nothing without you. If you come with me, maybe…" He hesitated, searching her face for a sign of the impact of his words.
"No, princess, you can't do this!"
They both turned with a start in the direction of the hoarse, familiar voice.
"Oh, not again," Lotor muttered to himself. "One person cannot possibly be this hard to kill." He pulled out his blaster and turned towards his ship, a snarl of hatred twisting his features at the sight of the dark-haired captain. His uniform was stained red and he was using Lance as a crutch, but he was still undeniably alive.
"Keith," Allura breathed, her voice heavy with relief.
Lotor felt that one word as sharply as if she'd stabbed him with a knife. He leveled his gun at the two pilots, narrowing his world until nothing existed but the weapon and his direct line of sight. His finger tightened on the trigger, but a hand grabbed his arm. The shot veered harmlessly into the dirt. Lotor spun around in a rage, barely hearing the voice calling his name.
"Lotor! No! You gave your word! They're not armed!"
"This wasn't part of the bargain," Lotor rasped, his whole being consumed with hatred. "They both die now!"
"No!" She shook his arm harder, eyes frantic. "I'll do whatever you ask. Do you hear me?"
She ignored the two pilots, concentrating all her attention on Lotor.
"You give me your word?"
Whatever her answer, it was lost in a crackling rain of laser fire that rocked the valley from end to end.
Lotor grabbed Allura and dove for the meager protection provided by his ship, using his body as a protective shield. It was the first selfless thing he'd done in years. As the fire died away, Allura pushed herself out from underneath him, jumping to her feet and scanning the sky. She turned to Lotor, radiating a thousand unvoiced accusations. "You lied to me!"
Lotor stared back helplessly, hands out imploringly. "No. No, I didn't..."
The valley seemed deathly quiet as the repercussion of the explosions faded from the air, replaced only momentarily by the soft sound of falling gravel. Allura grabbed her communicator, backing warily away from Lotor's kneeling form.
"Is everyone okay?"
"Princess?" Hunk's deep rumbling voice broke through the quiet, punctuated by intermittent bursts of static. "You've got to get out of there. The ships are coming back!"
Allura froze and stared into the dust obscuring the sky. "Have you heard from Keith or Lance?"
"No, nothing. Get out of there! I'll cover you. Pidge is going to look for them."
A quick burst of static erupted, followed by a soft, dazed-sounding voice, lacking any of its usual sharpness. "Don't worry about us. Just get her out of here before it's too late."
Allura shook her head, eyes brimming with tears. "No, Lance…" The whine of engines echoed through the dust, turning to a roar as the ships came closer.
"We're fine, Ally," he answered, his voice so soft Lotor had to strain to pick out the words. "There's no way I can get us both to red lion before those ships get here. Now go!" The static died away as he pointedly ended the transmission.
Allura turned back to Lotor, her eyes brimming with barely restrained tears and her body trembling with anger. Lotor felt the foundation of his sanity crack around the edges under the pure wave of her hate. "How could you do this? How could you?"
"Allura." His voice was torn from his throat, a plea for understanding. "I didn't…"
His own communicator beeped in his hand, the nondescript voice of one of the drones buzzing through the tension. "My prince, your father's ship… We need to get off the ground before we're destroyed in the cross-fire."
Lotor stared blankly at the instrument in his hand, his thoughts too fragmented to form a coherent answer.
"Prince Lotor? Did you hear me, sire?"
Lotor clicked off the communicator and rose slowly to his feet. "Father," he whispered, closing his eyes and dropping his head, "I should have known. I…"
He opened his eyes and raised his head, faintly surprised through his emptiness to find Allura watching him closely. She frowned slightly, a small crease forming on her forehead. "You didn't know, did you?" She shook her head, glancing back towards her lion. "Go, Lotor. Get off the ground before it's too late." She turned to run for her lion, but not before he saw the quick flash of pity in her eyes.
Please, don't take pity on me
Lotor started for his ship, replaying his conversation with Allura in his mind. He was oblivious to the fall of rock and the sharp whine of new laser fire, his entire concentration fixated on the expressions on Allura's face. First the outraged indignation followed slowly by acceptance. 'Would she have accepted? Would she have said yes? Father, how could you be so heartless?'
The thoughts lead quickly to the cutting pain of Allura's anger and hatred. He felt a surge of his own rage as the memory of her pity seared through him like wildfire. 'How dare she feel pity? I'm the Prince of Doom. People fear me! They hate me! They do not pity me!'
He slumped into his command chair, barely aware of the quick surge of gravity as the ship lifted away from the planet surface. 'Pity! All because of you, father. Everything always comes back to you.'
Allura's words played through his mind. "I can't give you the strength to face your father. That has to come from within yourself."
He sat up straight suddenly as an idea solidified in his mind. His father had taken Allura away from him. His father was going to pay.
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